It’s an amazing feat for any hockey player to score a goal in their first NHL game. But for Milan Michalek, he had no idea how long it would take for him to score his second.
Michalek, the Sharks first round draft pick (sixth overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, was on the fast track to the NHL. Playing for the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championships in 2002-03, he impressed the Sharks brass so much that he was invited to camp and earned a spot on the opening night roster without ever playing a game in the minors.
On Oct. 9, 2003, Michalek notched his first goal in a 5-2 loss at Edmonton. The goal had many Sharks fans becoming believers of the then 19-year-old standout winger. But the following game in Calgary, Michalek went down with a right knee injury that would sideline him for the better part of two years.
“The first game I was really happy because I had made the team and I scored a goal,” said Michalek. “It was a very good first game for me. Unfortunately, the second game I got hurt and I was out for the rest of the season and most of the next as well. Now I’m happy I’m back.”
The injury was a torn ACL in his right knee, which required extensive surgery. The recovery process was scheduled to be four-to-six months, but the rehab took a turn for the worse when the doctors detected an infection in the knee and had to go back in to clean everything up.
“I had to work out really hard after that,” said Michalek. “I had three surgeries in my knee. It got infected so they had to go back in and fix it all over again, so it was almost a year-and-a-half that I was out.”
Thankfully, Michalek’s knee is back to 100 percent. After extensive rehab, the Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic native got back on the ice in the Pacific Division Shootout at Logitech Ice in September. It was the first time Sharks fans had seen him in two years, and Michalek didn't disappoint.
With a stellar training camp and rookie camp, Michalek once again earned his way back on the roster and has not missed a beat since. In fact, he has had the opportunity to play alongside one of the best players in the game, Patrick Marleau
, on a nightly basis.
“It’s very exciting to be playing with Patty,” said Michalek. “He’s one of the best players in the NHL and I’ve been very fortunate to play with him a lot this season.”
Their newest linemate, rookie winger Steve Bernier, has fit in well with Marleau and Michalek since his recall from Cleveland one month ago. Their line is quite possibly one of the hardest hitting on the team, as all three guys are 220 pounds-plus and can skate with the best of them. Michalek is not only a threat to score, but his size and strength allows him to draw penalties against opponents. The winger has been a big part in the Sharks success as of late. He’s registered 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games this season and looks to keep pitching in where he can.
“I think we’re on a pretty good run now and I’m hoping it’s going to continue and lead on to the playoffs,” added Michalek. “My season has been OK, it definitely could be better, but like I said it’s good to be back on the ice and helping in any way I can.”
One of the highlights of the young Sharks season was playing against his older brother, Zbynek, for the first time in his career. Zbynek is also a rookie and plays on the Phoenix Coyotes blueline.
“The first time I played against him it was kind of weird because the last time we played against each other, I was 10 years old and he was 12,” said Michalek. “Now, with more games we have played against each other, we don’t think about it too much.”
Playing against his brother also works out well for his parents, who made the trip to the States from the Czech Republic to watch their sons face each other.
“They were here for two weeks before the Olympic break,” said Michalek. “They got a chance to see us both play when we went to Phoenix. They really enjoyed that a lot.”
And just because the brothers battle each other on the ice, it doesn’t mean the Michalek boys don’t enjoy their time together off the ice. Over the Olympic break, Milan and Zbynek escaped to Hawaii for a bit of R&R.
“It was nice and relaxing,” said Michalek. “We really just hung out at the beach, nothing too crazy.”
Whether it’s on the beach in Hawaii, or on the home ice at HP Pavilion, Michalek is thankful his knee trouble is behind him. Sharks fans couldn’t agree more.